BOOK REVIEW: What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin

What Remains of Me by Alison GaylinWhat Remains of Me
By: Alison Gaylin
Publisher: Cornerstone Digital
Publication Date: 1 September 2016
Format: Ebook, 373 pages

June 1980: 17-year-old Kelly Lund is jailed for killing Hollywood film director, John McFadden

Thirty years later, Kelly is a free woman. Yet speculation still swirls over what really happened that night.

And when her father-in law, and close friend of McFadden is found dead – shot through the head at point-blank range – there can only be one suspect.

But this time Kelly has some high-profile friends who believe she’s innocent of both crimes.

But is she? (Goodreads)

DividerWhen I picked up What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin, I wasn’t expecting the thriller that ensued, nor the inability to put the book down.

The plot begins with Kelly Lund and her husband, Shane Marshall. They awake to the news that Shane’s father, Sterling, has been found dead in his home, prompting Shane to head over there immediately. You’d think that Kelly would go too, but she is well aware that she isn’t welcome in the Marshall family fold, following her fifteen year prison sentence for the murder of a Hollywood director. The crime was committed when she was a teenager, hence the shortened sentence, earning her a reputation as a psychotic killer with no remorse for her actions. There is even a photograph of her smiling outside the courtroom that was dubbed the modern day Mona Lisa.

Of course, with her chequered past Kelly is the first suspect in line for Sterling’s demise, especially when she can’t explain her whereabouts. However, is Kelly really a killer at all? The book switches between past and present as we see the events leading up to the crime that changed Kelly’s life forever. She was a nobody at school until she met Bellamy Marshall, Shane’s older sister. Bellamy is a typical Hollywood teen, having been brought up with too much money and not enough attention. She introduces Kelly into the world of partying and drugs, with the pair becoming inseparable and pushing the boundaries further than ever before.

Kelly had been lonely since the death of her sister, Catherine, who had been desperate to become an actress but suffered under the pressures of the Hollywood lifestyle. In befriending Bellamy, part of Kelly is hopeful that she can find out the truth about what happened to her sister, refusing to believe that it was really a suicide. As she becomes more distant from her mother, Kelly sinks deeper into a world of secrets and lies, with these same dilemmas following her to the present day. There is a complicated matrix of secrets that Kelly is both a part of and oblivious to, with her life on the verge of being turned upside down if the right threads are pulled.

It’s difficult to describe the events of this book without giving away too many of the secrets, but Gaylin succeeds in weaving together such a clever and complex plot in such a way that I was completely and utterly gripped from page one. From the beginning I wanted to know why Kelly was so distant from Shane and what had really happened in both past and present. There were so many questions to answer and the suspense continues to grow on a gradual incline throughout the book. By the end you’re desperate to know the truth, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint when it comes along and smacks you in the face.

As a protagonist, Kelly undergoes significant changes between past and present, with the teenage Kelly being full of a naïve joy at finding friendship, despite the reckless behaviour that ensues. She is desperate for Bellamy to respect her and will do anything for her, whilst at the same time remaining hopeful that she might find out what really happened to her sister. Her somewhat naïve childhood self has become darker and more suspicious in the present, being unwilling to trust anyone and distant from those around her. She gets her escape from long night time drives and enjoys the freedom that had been lost to her for so long. With all the suspicion being heaped onto her, Kelly knows it won’t be long until both the police and the media come knocking, making her determined to get them off her trail, whether she has something to hide or not.

As for Shane, he is keen to protect Kelly and reluctant to believe that she would have killed his father. However, even he is forced to admit that he doesn’t know that much about his wife and what she gets up to in her spare time, especially when Bellamy keeps twisting the knife. He knows that there is something more going on in his family, but even he is not sure whether Kelly is innocent of her past crimes. He fell in love with her during her time in prison and through the letters they would send, but since those few conjugal visits Kelly won’t let him touch her, making him feel very alone and insecure. I felt very sorry for Shane as he was often out of the loop and had little idea what was going on or who was playing him. That’s not to say he’s stupid, but that he is very trusting and willing to believe the best in people even after they’ve double crossed him.

This book was filled with complex characters and plot twists galore, making it a rollercoaster of a read. I couldn’t put it down and was excited to reach the end as soon as possible, never really guessing what the conclusion would be. The interaction between past and present works beautifully, with every revelation being perfectly timed to cause the most impact. The multitude of characters complements each other well and it’s interesting to see some events from more than one point of view. I wasn’t anticipating such a fantastic read and am keen to get my hands on more of Gaylin’s fiction as soon as possible.

Gripping from the outset and a plot that will leave you wanting more, I absolutely loved this book from start to finish and would like to explore more of Gaylin’s fiction. There are several unexpected twists and turns and a great depth of character, successfully capturing everything that’s good about the thriller genre. You are never quite sure what will happen next or what the truth really is, making this a novel that stands out from the crowd.

5 star




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